Everyone, truly everyone: from Helsinki locals to avid travelers, told me to visit the Unesco World Heritage site of Suomenlinna when in Helsinki. I wasn’t entirely sure what all Suomenlinna had to offer when planning my trip. It felt a bit like: "You have to visit the Eiffel tower" when in Paris, which usually makes me want to skip a site or monument altogether. But not in the case of Suomenlinna: it is a truly unique place. Suomenlinna has a really interesting history, paralleling Finland's history. It's a fortress built over 6 islands in the 18th century, at a time when Finland was part of Sweden.
After only a short 20-minute ferry trip from the city center, I arrived in what seems like a different world - a snowy white wonderland. No cars, few tourists because of the winter season and a snow storm. It was -20°C and all the trees were covered with beautiful hoarfrost. I was able to get some pretty epic pictures thanks to all of the snow. I’m not sure what Suomenlinna looks like in the summer, but with the snow in the winter it was breathtaking.
Main gate of fortress. It has served to defend three different sovereign states over the years: the Kingdom of Sweden, the Russian Empire and the Republic of Finland.
The key sights are along a 1.5-kilometre main route running through the fortress. The route is waymarked with blue signs and marked on the map in blue.
The snow was pretty deep but the main footpaths and cobbled roads had been cleared making Suomenlinna easy to explore even in these more challenging conditions.
Cafe Vanille is my favourite cafe in Suomenlinna. During winter, this place provided me the shelter from the rough and freezing weather conditions on Suomenlinna. is very near to the main harbour.
It's cosy and a perfect spot for a coffee, tea or glögi (only at winter time) and some small pie, pastry or soup.
The Suomenlinna Church was built as a Russian Orthodox garrison church in 1850s. As Finland took control of the island in the 1920s, it was converted into a Lutheran place of worship. A lighthouse, serving both air and sea traffic, still operates in the steeple.
Interestingly, the bunkers on the island looked much like the homes in The Shire from Lord of the Rings.
After a few hours of exploring the place, I can say that Suomenlinna is more than a sea fortress - it’s haven of peace, reflection and history. What struck me most on Suomenlinna, was that this is actually a lively community where 800 people live every day. It must feel so special to live so close to the Finnish capital, yet in such a peaceful and relatively remote place where time seems to stand still.
To be perfectly honest, it’s fine to visit Suomenlinna without knowing its history. It’s a nice island on its own. I like the peace and stillness of winter here, away from the city. I love the way the snow silences everything, a muted world with the occasional twitter of little birds flitting from tree to tree. It's the place where you are one with nature. Nature is always present in Suomenlinna. Nature has always been very meaningful to me and inspiration for many of my designs. I think Finland with its many lakes and islands is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.